Students Design Home of the Future for Comcast Industry Challenge

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Evaluating innovative solutions to the Comcast challenge to design a home for the future.

Imagine yourself in a home where your TV screen stretches around three walls, ceilings show the natural light and weather above, kitchen countertops display recipes and dietary advice and bathroom mirrors show your calendar as you brush your teeth.

These are some of the concepts for the home of the future that Philadelphia University students presented to officials from Comcast, the global media and technology giant, at the end of a one-week company-sponsored Innovation Nexus Sprint on Oct. 28.

Comcast officials said students delivered fresh perspectives on the future home.

“The depth of their concept explorations was impressive,” said Aljit Joy, Comcast’s senior vice president of Comcast Innovation Labs. “There were stylistic differences across the teams, but perhaps the most intriguing theme was the students’ interpretations of their future environments, including digital and physical spaces.”

After reviewing the students’ work, Comcast officials singled out three exceptional ideas. First place went to “Ghost,” a personal device that would utilize sonar and cloud technology to help users control household technology through voice commands. Second place went to “Economic and Social Rowhouses,” which proposed solar panels, green walls and backyard terraces to help ramp up sustainability in the typical Philadelphia row home. And “Comcast Home: Wireless Energy” came in third with its innovative idea of producing wireless energy by harnessing kinetic energy through floor tiles.

“The winning teams broke down traditional norms and challenged current environments with thoughtful and potentially applicable disruption,” Joy said.

Students also voted for their favorite project, selecting the “Digital Gypsy Caravan” device that would contain all personal technology in one place and give users the ability to move to a home anywhere in the world and automatically sync their data. The students behind this project said it would help meet the challenges facing a mobile generation that needs to seamlessly transport their technology when they move.

Just one week earlier, Comcast executives had challenged 19 interdisciplinary teams of PhilaU students to come up with innovative technology solutions for the home of 2020. Some 100 students from architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and MBA programs spent an intense week brainstorming, problem-solving and designing their solutions.

Cherie Cremer, Comcast vice president of planning and operations, said the company was pleased to sponsor the sprint challenge because of the University’s collaborative approach to education. “The University’s interdisciplinary model was what attracted Comcast to this opportunity,” she said. “When you pull together students from various disciplines, you gain fresh ideas and perspective on the home of the future.”

Comcast is a Philadelphia-based global media and technology company with two primary businesses, Comcast Cable and NBCUniversal, and consolidated revenue of $62.6 billion in 2012, according to company documents.

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Students present their project to Comcast officials, PhilaU faculty and students.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students,” Jim Doerfler, architecture and architectural studies program director and lead faculty member for the Comcast challenge, said. “Architects, interior designers and landscape architects have different focus areas. Having all that come to the table at one time and making decisions around it is one of the best parts of the charrette.”

MBA student Gabrielle Wright, for instance, used her skills to provide her team with market research. “I helped with research as far as automated home systems and how they will change in the future, and we were able to incorporate that into our presentations,” she said.

Karen Blanchard, adjunct architecture faculty member, observed how the students’ ideas grew from brainstorming sessions to finished products over the span of only a few days.

“It was a real challenge for them to think holistically because the problem wasn’t defined,” Blanchard said. “They had to decide what the issue is and how to solve it. I think that was a real eye-opening experience for them and close to a real-life scenario.”

Architecture student Matthew Anderson and his group tried to answer the question: How can technology bring people out of the house and help them experience their community? “We wanted to develop a way in which technology enhances social interaction,” said Anderson, whose group came up with a digital application that would connect users to social events in their neighborhoods and update as they travel throughout the city.

Other groups presented proposals for a ceiling-mounted device that focuses audio in one direction and an interactive multimedia cover for kitchen tables that would eliminate the problem of family members getting buried in their personal devices during dinner.

Architecture student Ryan Kane said he enjoyed collaborating with Comcast. “They’re acknowledging the technology that we have now and trying to reinvent ways that we can advance it,” Kane said. “In the real world, this is what it’s like – a group of designers, interior designers, architects sit down and hash out the issues. It’s great to be exposed to this early on.”

The winning team members are:

“Ghost,” first place: architecture students Thomas Frank, Philip Rivera and Sean Tichy; and landscape architecture student Rich Cianfrini.

“Economic and Social Rowhouses,” second place: architecture students Brandon Saiz and Melanie Whedon; interior design students Katherine Blumberh and Lea DiSantis; and landscape architecture student Tim Linehan.

“Comcast Home: Wireless Energy,” third place: architecture students Stephanie Geraghty, Marika Mavroleon and Natasha Trice; landscape architecture student Ian Schieve; interior design student Drew Lackman; and MBA student Tyler Harden.

“Digital Gypsy Caravan,” students’ choice award: architecture students Thomas Burghart, Daniel Silberman and David Trapp; interior design student Colleen Barry; and landscape architecture student Jordan Force.

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